Read about our current research. Also view our Researcher profiles.

Prosody in clinical populations (ongoing project)

Fusaroli, Riccardo; Weed, Ethan; Bliksted, Vibeke; Simonsen, Arndis; Bang, Dan; Ladegaard, Nicolai & Tylén, Kristian

Successful spoken communication involves much more than choosing the correct words and stringing them together in a sentence. When we listen to a person speaking, we are typically aware of and influenced by small alterations in the pitch, rhythm, and quality of the speaker’s voice. These factors can impart information about the intentions, beliefs, and emotional state of the speaker. As speakers, we modulate these aspects of our speech, either intentionally or unintentionally, and these modulations impact the way our words are received and understood.

For some time, it has been acknowledged that people with a wide variety of neurological diagnoses behave atypically in the way they modulate these aspects of their speech. These people’s speech has been described at times as “odd”, “mechanical”, or “monotone”. Although this oddness of speech patterns has long been recognized, it has rarely been studied directly, and has proven difficult to quantify.

In this project, we apply a technique known as Recurrence Quantification Analysis to help us better quantify how the speech of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Depression, and Right Hemisphere Damage differs from that of matched controls. Of particular interest are the ways in which alterations in fundamental frequency (related to pitch) and use of pauses are atypical in these groups.

By studying the recurrence patterns of prosodic features throughout a unit of speech, we are able to obtain a more fine-grained measure of prosodic structure than has previously been available. This, we hope, enables a better understanding the interactional disfluency at the level of prosody and of its underlying causes.

Contact: fusaroli(a)

My pain and your pain (ongoing project)

Else-Marie Jegindø (cand.mag., PhD, postdoc)
Little is known of how people with ASD perceive pain and experience pain in others. In this ongoing study, participants rate their own subjective pain experience from non-harmful electrical stimulation in one session, and in another session they evaluate pain levels for chronic pain patients presented in short video clips. We also measure beat to beat heart rate in order to explore possible psychophysiological mechanisms involved in these experiences. This study will improve our understanding of pain processing and social aspects of pain expression for people with ASD, and we hope that these insights will be of use for future research in this field as well as for people with ASD and their families. We are still looking for participants (please write to else-marie(a) or gebauer(a)

An animal model of autism

Freja Bertelsen (PhD student)
Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder, which can be induced during the fetal period by neurotoxic exposure of drugs affecting the GABA system (alcohol, antiepileptic drugs) during pregnancy. The major focus of Freja Bertelsen’s work at CFIN is how the prenatal exposure of the antiepileptic drug valproate can alter the development of the rat brain. Freja studies the neuropathological, behavioural and biochemical changes induced during various development phases in the valproate rat
model to test whether it is relevant to the neuropathology of the human autistic brain. The poster presented at the 2012 British Association for Psychopharmacology, for which Freja received the young scientist poster award, summarizes the most important findings to date, including decreased play behavior, decreased serotonin level in the striatum and increased number of cells in the neocortex in valproate rats. These results are consistent with the results found in the human clinic. This new animal model may help to increase our knowledge of autism, improve prevention and lead to novel treatments of autism in the future.

Pilot study with Frith-Happé animations

Dan Bang, supervised by Ethan Weed, used the Frith-Happé animations in a novel way with 10 adults with Asperger Syndrome and 10 control participants. He measured the latency from the start of the movie to the first utterance, and specifically to the first mental state word. He also analysed the nouns and pronouns that people used to refer to the triangles (the blue triangle – he) and how well their use corresponded to the rules of language use. The results were tantalising but failed to reach significance because of the small number of participants.

Tapping Coordination (planned project)

Ivana Kovalinka (Ph.D., Mind Lab, ivana.konvalinka(a)
The experiment is a follow-up to a previous study, where joint finger tapping was used to investigate behavioural mechanisms that enable us to coordinate our actions with others in real time. We conducted an experiment with pairs of participants who were asked to maintain a beat while synchronizing to an auditory signal coming from the other person or the computer. We found that when participants were in a bidirectional interaction, each receiving auditory feedback of taps produced by the other member of the dyad, there was no evidence for the emergence of a leader-follower strategy. They became a mutually and continuously predictive and adaptive dyad, with their inter-tap intervals oscillating in opposite directions. Therefore, if one went faster on the previous tap, he/she would slow down on the subsequent one, while the other would simultaneously speed up. We would like to investigate whether autistic patients adopt the same predictive and adaptive behaviour, or keep to their own beat when asked to synchronize with another. In other words, do they take the other person into account during this low-level interaction? Moreover, we would like to see whether there is a difference in how they coordinate with a steady computer versus another person.

Music and the Emotions

Line Gebauer (Cand. Psych., PhD student, gebauer(a)
People with autism and Asperger’s syndrome are often reported to show great interest and enjoyment in music, and likewise to exhibit special musical talents, here among absolute pitch, superior musical memory and reproduction. In this study we aim to investigate how people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome process musical emotions, and the brain structures implicated herein. This will hopefully enlighten us on the effect of emotional music on people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and the potential therapeutic possibilities of music.

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